Staying "calm" is sometimes near impossible. Here are four simple ways we can begin.
So often we are told to "Stay calm!" but how the heck do we actually do that??
Nowadays, we have all heard of sending ourselves to time out in order to calm down before we pop our top over the kiddo's screaming! BUT what about the parents who are trying their hardest to remain calm and it simply isn't happening?? Why is "being calm" so doggone hard and how can we truly master regulating our own big emotional reaction to children's defiance and tantrums?
I'm excited to answer this important question today because there is so much emphasis on remaining calm FOR your youngster but sometimes it is damn near impossible.
I want to begin by drawing attention to the fact that self soothing during a big emotional outburst goes against everything our primal brain was designed for! This is partly why being calm when the house is erupting can sometimes feel like a cruel joke. "Every parent is giving themselves a time out and thinking space while I'm over here yelling the house down right alongside my four year old! How the heck are they so calm?!"
Well, first, those other parents are having a hard time too. You are not alone even though sometimes it may "look" like it. We are very good at only posting images of those few perfect moments (just before the actual reality - aka sh*t storm!) on social media. That is one of many reasons why the comparison trap that we fall into in virtually every aspect of our lives has got to stop or, at least, take a healthier spin.
Mama, if you are feeling like self-appointed time outs do not work for you than this is the post for you. We are going to explore exactly how to find your calm amidst the chaos and what to DO in your own personal time out. (Key to remember: if you are finding it hard to calm down in your own self appointed time out, imagine your kiddos!! They don't have the brain development to self soothe and regulate that you have!)
A parent's self appointed time out is a dedicated window of time where they can release their big emotions in a healthy, safe way (away from little influential ears) and choose the next BEST step forward for their family.
What often gets in the way is two big mistakes we make in our own time out.
1. We focus on the WHY behind the behaviour. "Why is he screaming all the time?!?!" "Why won't she just listen??" "I am sick of getting hit, why is he always so angry!" These "internal why's", I like to call them, create a thinking cycle that gradually escalates the problem rather than the opposite of de-escalating, which is the whole point of our self appointed time out.
When we ask our brain a question it's role is to seek out an answer. That means the moment you begin focusing on internal "why's" your brain WILL fill in the gap. "Because he's spoiled!", "Because she never listens!", "Because your in-laws are too soft on them!!" etc. See how this is only compacting the list of problems you are facing while taking you nowhere near an actual solution in the moment? That is simply because you are using your reactive, emotional brain to fix a genuine problem. It just gets in the way mama! Time to switch back to your reasonable brain. :)
2. We think we have to be perfect the second we step out of our self appointed time out. This is everything! The moment we send ourselves to time out we may be expected miracles. "Okay, I've stepped away like all the experts say...now where is that moment of clarity and inspiration?!?"
Girrrl, let me tell you that this is a process! Nobody, not even the parenting experts, can flip a switch in two seconds flat! We ALL experience stressors and we all experience emotional reactions when children are defiant, aggressive or disobedient.
There is not such thing as perfection, and that's okay. This truth gives us freedom to RELAX and know we aren't going to have the perfect answer every time. Instead, let's just choose ONE answer for this time. One step forward. "What is the FIRST step I can take right now to calm down?", "What is the first step I can take to reconnect with my angry child?", etc.
By adjusting our attention from perfection to the next step right in front of us, everything becomes possible again.
So, here are four simple questions we can begin asking ourselves to make the best use of self appointed time outs and how to truly master the art of finding your calm, even in the chaos (I promise, it's not impossible!!).
"What am I feeling right now?"
How often do you find yourself feeling guilty after yelling or losing your cool with your kids? Can we just take a moment to embrace the comradery? Because, we have ALL been here. We all feel lousy sometimes.
You know what happens when you feel guilty about your parenting decision? You put pressure on yourself. You put yourself down and deny yourself the right to FEEL. "I can't believe I got so mad, what is wrong with me??" The answer: nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. Emotions are real and natural. So much of our emotions is out of our control.
This is why the first step is accepting how you FEEL rather than avoiding it. "This is hard and sometimes I feel overwhelmed, and that's okay because I'm human." When we take a moment to validate our own big emotions it releases that tension that can often prevent us from letting go of those internal why's we talked about. "Why" questions are often our brain's way of defending itself. But, the moment we accept our reactions as normal and understandable, we are free to stop that cycle and move on to the next question.
"What does my child(ren) need or want?"
I'm about to say something that I always say, so refrain from the eye rolls thank you very much!! Behaviour is communication. There, it's done. As much as I sound like a broken record, it's still true and an important step in this process!
Everything we do is a form of communicating. When your little one is screaming they are telling you, "I need help coping." When your little one is defiant they are telling you, "I need to be heard."
This is why time out can be SO effective for adults. It's a few minutes to take a step back and see beyond the behaviour and hear their actual message. What is your child telling you?
"How is the environment affecting my child(ren)?"
When a little brain is reactive, it becomes so sensitive. Noises, movement and other people can compact and become emotional triggers. Have a quick look around and remove any potential triggers affecting your little one's ability to cope right now.
Ask the other children to go play in their room for a minute while you sit with your little firework. :)
Turn the TV off before attempting to calm down.
Close the windows so the hustle and bustle of traffic dies down.
These are small ways to help your kiddo, and yourself, regulate in the heat of the moment.
Finally, "How do I best respond?"
We finally made it. Now, we can finally ask the question: "What is the next step forward?" Only focusing on one step at a time, ask your "now calmer" self.
What is one step you can take that will support your child? This takes us back to question two; defining the message behind your child's behaviour.
Once we are calmer and more reasonable, our drive to support (rather than run away to Mexico!) returns. "My child felt unheard because in my rush to get out the door I talked over him and bullied him to hurry up. Now that I hear his message I can take one step towards helping him feel heard."
What is amazing is that children do better the moment we listen to them.
While our natural draw may be to dominate and control their behaviour (hint hint: the same reason children do not listen is often their draw for control and WE have the same draw!) what always works best is when we come from a position of equality and respect. Simply validating your's and your child's need to FEEL will immediately boost you towards being reasonable and finding the next best step forward.
"I can see that rushing out the door is sometimes hard for you. What can we do to make it easier?" Some answers may be:
- Waking up earlier and allowing for some dedicated 1:1 time so child feels connected and relevant before the hustle and bustle.
- Having a healthy breakfast before getting dressed in case their hunger is getting in the way of being cooperative.
- Giving choices wherever possible so your little one feels like part of the morning routine.
These are just quick examples, but see how reasonable and simple they are now that everyone is calm? This is the beauty of self appointed time outs. With these four questions you can navigate your way through your own big emotional reactions to your children's screaming, bickering and defiance with a clear, mental road map. Which question are you currently using? Did I miss any tips that you absolutely rely on during the storm? I would love to hear them!
For some families having that extra bit of support and guidance through challenging behaviour is all they need to radically turn things around! If you feel like your family could benefit from behaviour support please get in touch. I love talking about early childhood behaviours and why kiddos do what they do! This provides parents and carers with the best tools for building their essential parenting skills.
About the author
Stephanie Wicker is a child behaviour expert, parenting educator, counsellor and speaker - who has successfully guided families through early childhood for over 15 years. Through her experience with private consultancy, as a preschool teacher and special needs therapist - she has worked across the many facets of early childhood behaviour.
Stephanie's evidence-based programs are grounded in behaviour science and her passion for Relational Frame Theory (RFT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and developmental psychology all play a big role in her programs.
Stephanie’s experience covers early intensive behaviour intervention programs for children with special needs and for families newly diagnosed. She hosts live training events all over Australia, where she shares her practical solutions and language techniques, along with providing private, in-home therapy sessions for those seeking more personalised support.
Through her company, Simply Kids she provides family resources such as digital books and educational activities, designed to keep behaviour simple.
"By helping parents place emphasis on connection, empowerment and encouragement, I believe that all children have the ability to reach their full potential." - Stephanie Wicker